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Distemper in Dogs / Canine Distemper (CDV)

What is Distemper?

Distemper is a serious viral illness for which there is no known cure.  The virus is spread through the air or through indirect contact with an infected animal via bedding or shared feeding bowls and utensils.

What are the symptoms?

Approximately 1 week after initial contact with the virus the first symptoms are:-

  • Reddened eyes
  • Nasal and eye discharge
  • High fever (which may go and return a couple of days later)
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

An infected dog may also be found to suffer with,

  • a cough
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting

At the later stages, your pet may suffer fits and paralysis as a result of the virus attacking the nervous system.  Where an animal has a weak immune system, death may follow after 2-5 weeks.

If a dog is only mildly affected he may only suffer with a cough and so be misdiagnosed with “kennel cough”.

Distemper in dogs is sometimes called “hard pad disease” as the nose and foot pads of young dogs may become thickened.

What are the causes of canine distemper?

Canine distemper is caused by the distemper virus and related to the measles virus which effects humans. Other species of animals can be infected with a strain of the distemper virus, such as ferrets, foxes, raccoons, wolves and skunks.  Consequently, in addition to contact with other pet dogs or ferrets, contact with wild animals may help the spread of distemper in dogs.

What are the risk factors?

Distemper can be fatal, but not in every case. All unvaccinated dogs are at risk, however the very young and old suffer the highest death rate.  Pets that do recover, may suffer permanent damage to vision as well as the nervous system.  Puppies who recover can have mottled teeth as a result.

How is canine distemper diagnosed?

Canine distemper cannot be diagnosed purely on your pet exhibiting the above symptoms.  It will be necessary to undertake blood and urine tests and even skin biopsies to confirm diagnosis. Once diagnosed, or suspected of having canine distemper, your pet must be quarantined.

What treatment is there for canine distemper?

There is no specific treatment or actual cure for distemper.  Treatment is very much supportive and depends on the symptoms exhibited by your pet. Antibiotics would be used to treat pneumonia or secondary infections.  Fluid to combat dehydration, medication to reduce vomiting and anticonvulsants to treat seizures. Unfortunately, there are no antiviral drugs that can effectively treat dog distemper.

A dog’s chances of survival very much depends on the strain of the virus and the strength of the dog’s immune system.

Prevention of distemper

The most effective prevention is vaccination followed up with annual boosters and immediate quarantine of animals suspected with infection of the virus.

New born pups need to be protected and isolated until their vaccination program has been completed (usually between 14-16 weeks).

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